On a cold Thursday afternoon in a remote southern forested
region somewhere near the Ural Mountains, I sat blindfolded and
bound while kneeling in the freezing waters of a pebbled creek.
This was the idea of my accompanied escort, a man who introduced
himself only as "Borsk", who was adamant this was the only way I
could meet Mr. Putin. To blindfold a man for eight and a half days
in the back of a Polish knockoff Ford Explorer seemed harsh to me,
but it's a part of the job, especially if it meant the chance meet
the President of Russia and hear his strategy and tips on the
popular American game of Scrabble.
Russia has a rich tradition of board game strategy, usually
understood by international audiences from the game of chess. So to
get the chance to meet Vladimir Putin and get his take on how to
win a game of Scrabble seemed unquestionable despite my not having
any solid food for the last four days, numerous nose bleeds, and
what sounded like a run-in with a family of bears a mere fourteen
hours into our trip into the Russian wilderness.
Borsk eventually untied my blindfold, and it was the first time
I saw the sunlight in days. After I vomited into a patch of
dandelions, Borsk instructed me with a list of etiquette before
meeting the Russian president.
"Do not look directly in eye."
"No mention his no shirt."
"His no shirt," I asked.
"Yes. He no wear shirt in Russian forest."
Borsk was right. I had seen the pictures. Regularly on horseback
or fishing with spears and other primitive tools, the Russian
leader was rarely clothed while in the wilderness. Was this a new
form of Russian propaganda? That wasn't what I was here for,
though. I came to find out Scrabble strategy.
"You give watch when Putin arrive," Borks instructed.
"But my grandmother game me this wat-"
"You give watch!!!" Borsk yelled.
A flock of birds suddenly scattered into the skies above us, a
faint wolf's howl ripped nearby, and the creek water stopped
running. A squirrel ran into a tree hole. A bear in the distance
ran away from Borsk and I. The air went cold as the clouds moved
quickly in front of the sun. A whip cracked, and Borsk began to
From behind a small hilly section of the forest, the stomp of a
grizzly's foot smashed into the floor of the Russian forest
vibrated under us. Rising from the opposite side of the hill was a
full grown grandfather grizzly bear, snarling through harnesses,
it's hot breath smoking through the cold air like a hairy dragon.
Atop of the beast was a casual Vladimir Putin, a harness in one
hand and a harpoon in the other. His ripped chest heaved, misting
in the cold forest air. Putin dismounted from the bear and walked
"I am Vladimir Putin," he said, "And you have come for Scrabble
My eyes never met his; instead I kept my head down toward the
creek water, which had now turned blood red. I looked over and
Borsk's lifeless body lay at my side.
Trembling, I replied, "Yes. Yes, Mister President."
"I give you. I give you Scrabble strategy," Putin said.
"Yes, sir," I replied. There was a calm before he replied, and
when he spoke, his voice echoed through the forest like a
"'A-A', 'Q-I', and 'X-U' can legally be used in Scrabble game,
but 'JEW' is a proper noun, and cannot be used. Putin has
I could not believe what I had heard. I spent eight days bound,
gagged, and blindfolded to hear that the fucking President of
Russia was one of those douchebags that plays "QI" on a triple word
score?! Before I could begin to protest, I looked up at the
He smiled, pointed at my wrist, and politely said, "This is very
nice watch you have!"
As he disappeared behind the hill from whence he came with the
watch given to me by my Grandmother, he released a deep laugh. The
bear stood upon its hind legs while Vladimir still mounted, and
released the screeching sound of an African elephant's war cry.